Friday, December 30, 2011

12/30/2011 The Ants Go Marching One By One

Do you remember when you were a kid and singing a song about ants?

(sung to the tune of When Johnnie Comes Marching Home)

The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah The ants go marching one by one, the little one stops to suck his thumb And they all go marching down… to the ground…. to get out… of the rain, BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

And then of course the ants march two by two all the way to the end of the song and along the way the little one stops to do something. Anything from knock on the door to pick up sticks depending on what number it rhymes with. I must have sung this song a hundred times when I was a kid.

There is a reason I brought this up, bear with me.

A couple of days ago Bob came in from taking our trash to the dumpster and said, “Grab your camera and go walk along the back fence. Look at the ground right by the fence.” Well, needless to say he had my attention and off I went.

I was just amazed at what I saw. A line of leaves walking along a forty foot trail. Walking leaves??? I knelt down to get a better look. I snapped of 18 pictures of these walking leaves and raced home to get them on the computer to see what I had captured. I wasn’t impressed with photographic results to say the least. I deleted all but three and even those I wasn’t happy with.

I went back the next day and took a beach towel with me so I could lay on the ground and take some more pictures. Well, the pictures didn’t turn out any better because the street was covered in pebbles and stones and it just hurt to lay there. I couldn’t find a way to position my arms so that I could hold the camera steady because of stones poking in my elbows. The one time I did get somewhat comfortable a darn car came and since I was laying in the street I had to get up quickly and I lost what probably would have been National Geographic worthy photos. (Ha! I crack myself up sometimes!)

So I google cut ants and start reading. Wow, what an amazing and DESTRUCTIVE little group of insects.

Their proper, non-scientific, name is Leaf Cutter Ants. I think it should be changed to, Strip a Tree In No Time Flat Ants.

This is what I saw walking down the forty feet of fence, all in a row, one right after the other. Very methodical, no crowding each other, just hundreds of leaves walking down the street.

This is a pretty good sized leaf!


So what did I find out about ants? Well, these particular ants are found in Central America, Mexico and the southern US. The are two different types of Leaf Cutter ants and 47 sub species.

Next to humans, leafcutter ants form the largest and most complex animal societies on Earth. In a few years, the central mound of their underground nests can grow to more than 98 ft. across, with smaller, radiating mounds extending out to a radius of 260 ft., taking up 320 to 6,500 sq. ft. and containing eight million individuals. (Thank you Wikipedia!)

Click on the picture belong to enlarge it in a new screen. You’ll see ants that aren’t carrying leaves and that is because they are heading back for more or their JOB is to protect the working ants from insect predators.


Now to the WHY of the leaf cutting. It seems the ants grow a fungal garden underground and these leaves feed it. This is way more than I ever wanted to know about ants, let me tell ya!

Here’s how it goes down. Male and female ants are winged as ant “toddlers” if you will. When it is time for the ants to leave the nest they do so en masse and engage in a nuptial flight known as the revoada. Each female mates with multiple males (the slut!) to collect the 300 million sperm to start her colony. Three hundred million!

On the ground, now wingless, the female searches for an underground area in which to lay her eggs and found her colony. The success rate of these young queens is very low, and less than three percent will go on to establish a sustainable colony. Before leaving her birth nest the queen stored a small amount of the parental fungus garden mycelium in her a pocket, which is located within her oral cavity. Oh, I so didn’t want to know all this!

These little ants are workers!


Here is a picture taken by Bandwagonman I took with permission from Wikipedia. This is obviously a huge colony which needs tons of leaves to feed the fungus.

cut ant 1

Several times bigger than itself and the ant can still carry the leaf. (Photo by Grey Wulf – U.K. with permission)

cut ant 2

This is what our street looked like. Why couldn’t these ants walk on limb so I could get pictures like this??? (Photo by Yuval Gelber – Peru with permission)

ant cutter 3

These little ants have quite the audience every day as dog walkers stop to watch, cars go by slowly with drivers watching the show and the random woman laying on the ground on top of a large M & M beach towel and trying to take their picture. You have to wonder what they think, ya know?

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